There is an expression in San Diego, “South of the 8."
It describes a geographical location south of downtown San Diego but it’s an area where the perception is sometimes negative.
“I was living in it and I didn’t realize it was dangerous. I was hearing helicopters all the time”, said Omar Romman Johnson who grew up exposed to gangs.
Even though the drugs, the money and the girls were part of a glorified lifestyle in his world at the time, he realized it was not a “blueprint” he wanted to follow.
He may have been motivated by his own initiative but credits his mother as a driving force to help him succeed.
"She’s done her best to raise me and to cultivate me to be a good person in a world in a sense and to contribute to the world in a positive way,” he said.
Iyari Arteaga grew up with a different kind of angst, living in Normal Heights, City Heights and Barrio Logan.
She said her classmates from the high school she attended “north of the 8” didn’t understand her indigenous roots and traditions.
“I didn’t know how to talk about it because I was scared that people were going to look at me differently," she said.
Arteaga added many hold stereotypes about communities located south of I-8.
"They think it’s dangerous down there,” she said.
Johnson and Arteaga are two of five young adults who will tell their stories in a theater production by La Jolla Playhouse and Ping Chong + Company. It’s called: South of the 8.
“We’re humanizing south of the 8 because people just have this idea and the stereotype and stereotypes are really just a way to dehumanize people,” said Arteaga.
Johnson said the communities hold promise and the changes are noticeable.
He said that this non-traditional production allows him and the four others to share their experiences in a bigger spotlight.
He said he hopes everyone can “try to diagnose the issues so that we can fix them.”
Right now Johnson is cutting hair for a living while pursuing his passion for music and acting.
Arteaga is teaching theater at East Village High School and working at the Children’s Museum.
South of the 8 opens for three performances March 31 and April 1 at the City Heights Performance Annex.
For more information contact the La Jolla Playhouse.